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CRESPOGRAM REPORT

MAY  23, 2012

1814 BRICKELL AVENUE

[NOTE I:  I am indebted to Stephen Murray, who, while no longer living in Miami, kept his files, and was invaluable in providing research, including finding documents that all but refused to be found.]


[NOTE II:  All of the documents referenced in this story can be located either by clicking on the links provided, or by going to the DOCUMENT link, and scrolling down to 1814 BRICKELL AVENUE.]


This coming Friday, there will be a formal ceremony to dedicate the opening of the new city park at 1814 Brickell Avenue.  Some people are speculating that the park will be named after Tibor Hollo, who has repeatedly been cited in all the PR stories about the park as having contributed $250,000 towards the purchase of the property.


In a city with a real news media, chances are that some enterprising editor long ago would have sent a reporter out to ask, “Why would Tibor Hollo contribute $250,000 for the purchase of this park?”


It’s the kind of question that you would think inquiring minds would be curious about.


But alas, this is Miami, Bitches!, where if the story can’t be told in 15 column inches or  2 minutes of airtime or less, it doesn’t get told.


So here’s the real story about how the deal to buy and operate  the park 1814 Brickell took place.  It’s a story that no one else would spend the time to tell you.


THE TIBOR HOLLO CONNECTION


Among the biggest conspiracy theories in the local blogsphere over the last 2 years was that Commissioner Marc “Ethics” Sarnoff engineered the city’s purchase of the 1814 property as a way to bail Tibor Hollo out of a real estate jam.


NOT TRUE!


After going through hundreds of pages of documents in the City’s files, as well as the county’s property records, and conversations with people close to the deal, I could find no evidence that Tibor Hollo was ever the owner of the property.


In 2009, Hollo and his sons did create a company called 1814 Brickell LLC, but there is no evidence that this company actually owned the property referred to as 1814 Brickell Avenue.


The property at 1814 Brickell Avenue was owned by Zvonimir Belfranin and his wife Lourdes, who purchased the property in 2004.


In 2010, as part of the deal to sell the property to the City, Zvonimir Belfranin, was required to submit a detailed disclosure of who owned the property.  That document can be read HERE.   For clarification Aamapex LLC was another company owned by Lourdes Belfranin.


There has also been  speculation that Hollo had some sort of side deal with the owners that would have rewarded his efforts if he was able to convince Sarnoff and the City to buy the property.


This seems possible because there is ample evidence, including words of praise from Commissioner Sarnoff during the January 8, 2010 City Commission meeting, where he stated: (Page 18)

   

        “I want to take my hat off to a couple people. Tibor Hollo

        and his entire family for the help in the negotiation. 

        And so you know, Mr. Hollo’s foundation, along with

        Sheila Hollo, are donating $250,000 for the reduction

        price of this particular park.  Jerry Hollo was instrumental

        in ensuring this park was available to us.”


Whether the Hollo’s $250,000, actually was recognized as “donation” is debatable since I saw an email from the City Attorney’s office that stated the Hollo’s could not claim the payment as a donation.


More importantly however, this is a story about a piece of property that was purchased for significantly more than an empty lot with prehistoric human remains, restrictive zoning codes and cratering property vales was worth, and how Commissioner Sarnoff stage managed it all for campaign support from the Brickell residents for his reelection in 2011.


HOW IT ALL BEGAN


Always trying to think a couple steps ahead, Marc Sarnoff by 2009 was beginning to look towards his run for reelection in 2011.  He knew that he had the Grove vote secured through the efforts of Sue McConnell and his other Grove allies, and he knew that the Upper East Side was not capable of generating enough votes to knock him out of the box, but he also knew that the downtown/Brickell Avenue part of his District could cause him serious trouble if a credible challenger were to decide to run against him, because even though he had done his best to provide constituent services, there were those, especially some members of the Brickell Homeowners Association, who kept carping that they were getting short changed when it came to receiving benefits for the tax dollars they paid to the city. 


Sarnoff, who had already staked out a position as the “Parks Guy” on the City Commission, decided that giving the Brickell folks a park would be the best, and most visible way to show them that was looking out for their interests.


The only problem was that there weren’t that many properties available for conversion as a City Park in the area.


The choice of the property at 1814 Brickell as the best location for a park became as a matter of default, as other properties were dropped off the list.  It was a fortunate decision for the owners of the lot, who falling behind in their property taxes had to recognize that events beyond their control were quickly contributing to the lot losing its value.


In 2007, prehistoric human bones had been discovered on the property, and Robert Carr, from the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, Inc., had been called in to excavate the bones.  The discovery of these bones, presented a major problem for any plans of going forward with developing the property.


The changes in zoning brought about by Miami 21 also created a problem by making the property R-3: Multifamily Medium-Density Residential.


A story about the opening of the park in the May 10, 2012 edition of Miami Today provided a surprisingly revealing comment attributed to Sarnoff, that in hindsight raises a question about the amount of money that the City ended up paying for this property:


        “Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said in a previous

        interview that the land could have been used only

        as park park because archaeologists said no structure

        or building could rise there.”


Lastly, property values were beginning to plummet all over the country, and especially Miami-Dade County as a result of the recession, and 1814 Brickell was one of those properties affected.


In 2008, the property at 1814 Brickell was assessed at $3,905,000.00.  In 2009, it was assessed at $3,017,500.00, and in 2010, after the property was purchased by the City, it was assessed at $1,775,000.00. Overall, the property suffered a decrease of $2,130,000.00 in 3 years.


So, what do you do if you own a piece of property that is essentially incapable of being developed, and is loosing value as a result of a Recession that is undermining property values, and for which you’ve fallen behind in paying the property taxes on?


You hope that some gullible politician comes along offers to buy the property for more than it’s worth, so you can tap dance all the way to the bank.


THE MAKING OF THE DEAL


The first public record establishing the intention of the City of Miami’s to purchase the property was May 15, 2009, according to a request by the City to the County’s Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond program, for $500,000.00 towards the purchase price of the property.


In the following months the City’s Facilities Management Department undertook a number of due diligence steps, including requesting independent appraisals from 2 appraisers.


Those appraisals came in at the end of September, and reflected in part the decline in property vales that was beginning to affect properties in Miami-Dade County.


One appraisal came in at $2,400,000.00, and the other at $2,4750,000.00.


On October 22, 2009, the City Commission discussed Resolution 09-01159, that laid out the proposal to purchase the property.


The strategy that had been worked out before hand by Sarnoff and his supporters within the administration was to try and force the Commission to move rapidly on this issue by inserting language into the resolution that claimed:


         “WHEREAS: time is of the essence in the acquisition

         of the Brickell Property and the City Commission

         wishes to authorize the manager to purchase the

         Property by accepting an assignment of the

         Commercial Contract;”


Time was never of the essence, because there were no real buyers knocking on the Belfranin’s door.


What had happened however, was that what appeared to be a buyer had been introduced into the process as a way to make it appear that someone was ready to snatch the property out from under the City’s grasp.


The buyer was named Sami Kalimi, and he had submitted a commercial contract for the property offering to pay $3,000,000.00.  Kalimi was represented in this action by Tibor Hollo’s long-time real estate attorney, Kerry Rosenthal.


For regular CrespoGram readers, the name Kerry Rosenthal should ring a bell.  He is a member of the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission, who I wrote about in January of 2011, as having illegally served as the Chairman of that group for 12 years.  The ordinance that created the Commission stipulated that a Chairman could only serve 1 - 2 year term.


I also wrote about Rosenthal the following month for having engaged in a Conflict of Interest when he sat on the panel reviewing an ethics violation lodged against North Miami Councilman Michael Blynn, then Chairman of the Miami-Dade League of Cities, which was the organization that had appointed Rosenthal to the Ethics Commission, and who re-appointed him weeks after Rosenthal’s vote led to the charges being dismissed.


In the weeks that followed, the deal seemed to cool, perhaps because the spread between Kalimi’s bid of $3 million and the appraisers $2.4 million valuation caused some in the city to re-access the deal.


Then, on November 25th, Sami Kalimi’s contract offer expired, and a new buyer for the property immediately surfaced.  Her name was Raquel Wells, and not only was she too represented by Kerry Rosenthal, but she worked for him as a paralegal.


Her offer came in at $2,875,000.00.


Several days after Well’s offer was submitted, an email went to Madeline Valdez, the Director of facilities management that raised an interesting question.

A MASTER CLASS IN HOW COMMISSIONER “ETHICS” SARNOFF OPERATES

This time, whatever dealing needed to be done behind the scenes was done, and on January 8 ,2010, a revised Resolution - Resolution 10-00034 - was introduced, substituting Raquel Wells for Sami Kalimi.  It passed after some pointed questioning from Commissioner Carollo about the financing and where the money for the park’s maintenance would come from.


In the aftermath of the deal being approved by the Commissioners, folks on the blogsphere started posting allegations that the purchase price had been wildly inflated, and that the price paid was far more than the property was worth.


In researching this claim, the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s assessed and market values for this property in 2010 was$1,775,000.00.


Considering the possibility that because the property became tax exempt in 2010, after the City purchased it, that figure was skewered downward, I went looking for another property close by to see whether there might be a difference in  price - especially market price - between it and the 1814 property.


As luck would have it, 3 doors down, at 1866 Brickell, there is an empty lot, a mirror image in every way of the 1814 lot, and and at 17,500 SQ, 1/2 the size of the 1814 Brickell, which is 35,500SQ.


In 2010 and 2011, the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser valued this lot for both assessed and market value at $875,000. Doubling the price to correspond to the lot at 1814, the assessed and market value would be $1,750,000.00.


There is no question therefore that had the City not been steamrolled into a rush purchase of this lot they could have gotten it for less money especially, since even to the casual observer, the property values along Brickell Avenue were plummeting annually.


Another way to look at it is that the 4 of the Dwarfs on the City Commission got snookered by Dwarf Sarnoff into spending more money than they should have so that he could use the purchase of this lot as the centerpiece of his campaign to get reelected in with the Brickell residents of his District.

From the documents available, it appears that Sarnoff decided to bypass any involvement by the City in the design of the park, and instead of putting the design out for bid, chose to do a private deal Enea Garden Design, who had recently received a no-bid contract to re-design the front entrance to Simpson Park, less than 6 blocks from 1814.


Here is an email from Carolina Monteiro, acknowledging the deal and the payment of $20,000, to do the design work.

TRYING TO FOLLOW THE MONEY


The most confusing part of this whole deal is all of the various sources of money that went into the purchase, design, and possible maintenance of this park.


PARK I - FINANCING THE DEAL


The simplest part to unravel was the money used to purchase the park.  It came  from  a collection of bond and grant monies. The sources were $460,000.00 from the Sunshine State Loan #2, $500,000.00 from the District 2, Homeland Defense Bonds allotment, and $1,300,000.00 from impact fees collected by the city, and 337,775.00 from Miami-Dade County’s Safe Neighborhood Bond Program.


An additional $250,000 was provided by the Tibor and Sheila Hollo Charitable Foundation.


This comes to $2,847,775.00. The final purchase price according to an email sent to Kerry Rosenthal informing him the money was being wired into his account was $2,553,276.40.


Ever vigilant to watch over the public’s money, the 5 Dwarfs on the City Commission readily agreed to the taxpayers paying $70,000, for the lien against the property by Robert Carr over the prehistoric human bones he discovered in 2007, as well as all of the closing costs, including $8500 to Kerry Rosenthal for his legal work associated with the contract to buy the property submitted by his paralegal.  It all came to approximately $119,000.00.


WHOSE PAYING FOR WHAT


When it was all said and done, 294,498.60 supposedly still remained for design and construction.


Unfortunately, that didn’t appear to be enough for Sarnoff.

The question, since he decided to bypass the City was how could Sarnoff get his hands on $20,000 to pay for the design work?


The answer lay in another email to Jay Solowsky I found from Sarnoff.

The payment would come from the $35,000 grant from Lucia Dougherty’s client, owners of the vacant lot now known as the Flat Iron Park.


Again, for CrespoGram regulars, you’ll remember my story on April 16th, about the Flat Iron Park in the Mary Brickell area that had served as this big, ground breaking event by Sarnoff, last december 19th, with a collection of the usual suspects in attendance to fawn over his every word. When the cameras were turned off, and the shovels put away, the empty lot went back to being an empty lot.


The term “grant” however, might not be the best word to describe how these guys found themselves underwriting the design of the 1814 Brickell Park.  Strong armed by Commissioner Sarnoff I think might seem to be more descriptive.


THE FLAT IRON BUILDING/PARK


The whole Flat Iron Building deal deserves it’s own story, but for now here are the basics.


The property used to be owned by Sarnoff pals Jay Solowsky and Steven Perricone, along with realtor Edie Lacquer and retired construction executive Michael Smith.  In March of 2005, Miami Today reported that this group sold the property for $18.8 million dollars, and the new owners intended to build “a high-rise mixed use development with retail, office and residential condominiums.”


Time went by, the economy tanked, and building another high-rise in the Brickell area no longer seemed like a good idea at the time, so the owners decided to do a deal with the city to allow them to create a “passive public park,” in return for allowing the property to sit vacant until the economy improved enough to start construction.


The first license agreement between the owners and the City, signed on April 22, 2010, did not include any provisions for the owners coming up with $35,000 to cover the design costs of 1814 Brickell Park.


That happened sometime between April 22nd, and May 16th, when a Resolution was prepared for the City Commission to authorize the City Manager to go forward with a licensing agreement for the Flat Iron Park.


Another little wrinkle that also popped up in the revised license agreement had the owners of the Flat Iron properties take over a portion of the maintenance responsibilities for 2 tiny pocket parks at 20 and 25 SE 10th Street that had been donated to the City by the Allen Morris Company, and that had up till them been maintained by Steven Perricone, of Perricone’s, in return for being able to use the park property at 25 SE 10th Street for outdoor seating for his restaurant.


Perricone, Solowsky and Sarnoff are as thick as thieves, to use a phrase, and the multiplicity of links that tie these guys together - especially Sarnoff and Solowsky - are really interesting and will be the subject of a future story.


So, not only did Sarnoff lean on the owners of the Flat Iron property to contribute $35,000 towards the design of the 1814 Brickell Park, but he also got them to relieve his pal Perricone of part of his responsibilities in maintaining the Allen Morris Park.


How sweet is that?


THE 1814 BRICKELL PARK IMPROVEMENT, INC


The most surprising revelation in this whole saga was the discovery that Jay Solowsky, on April 26, 2010, incorporated a Florida Not-For-Profit called the 1814 Brickell Improvement, Inc..



Sources told me that Sarnoff would tell folks who came to him looking for favors that he tell them that If they wanted  a favor from him, they had to donate to the park and make the check out to 1814 Brickell Improvement, Inc.


Last week, I wrote to jay Solowsky asking him if this was true:

To his credit, Solowsky responded within a half hour.

I love it when lawyers write Latin to me.  “Inter alia” means “among other things.”


So, if the $42,000  in Solowsky’s bank account was “among other things,” intended for maintenance of the Park, then what other things besides maintenance do you think that Solowsky and his pal Sarnoff had in mind for that money?


IN CONCLUSION


So that’s the tale - up to now - about the 1814 Brickell Park. 


Commissioner “Ethics,” intent on locking in the Brickell area vote, and aided and abetted by Tibor and Jerome Hollo - Jerome being a board member of the DDA, of which Sarnoff is the Chairman, and which will remember the whole Absentee ballot/Get-Out-The-Vote campaign story - steamrolled his fellow City Commissioners into hurrying to buy a piece of property that arguably was not worth the money they paid for it.  Remember, Miami Today says that Sarnoff himself has admitted that the property was worthless for anything other than a park.


Then using his position, as the Chairman of the City Commission, he “convinced” another would-be tycoon looking to become rich from building another high-rise in the Brickell area to contribute $35,000 to finance the design of the park.


Along the way he managed to do a little favor for another other pal, Steven Perricone, and then the best deal of all was having his number one pal, traveling companion, landlord, and all around factotum, Jay Solowsky, create a private Not-For-Profit corporation that he directed favor seekers to donate money to, and which, said money, will “among other things” supposedly be used for the maintenance of the park.


of course, since 1814 Brickell Park is an official city park, and the City has a department called Parks and Recreation, responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of city parks, you got to wonder how much of that $42,000 in Solowsky’s bank account will go for “among other things,” instead of maintanence.


And lest we forget, Kerry Rosenthal also managed to walk away with a little taste of Miami taxpayer money - $8500.00 - for providing the legal services that allowed his paralegal to submit her $2,850,000.00 bid for the property, just in time to provide the appropriate stagecraft needed to convince the other 4 Dwarfs on the City Commission that the property was on the verge of being snatched out from under their noses.


Oh yeah, and to this day, only Tibor Hollo and Sarnoff know why he was willing to give $250,000 of his money to help purchase this property.  


But then again, maybe The Shadow knows too.


It’s, Miami, Bitches!, and don’t you ever forget it!

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